Vernon Ah Kee is a nationally and internationally renowned artist who was born in Innisfail, south of Cairns, in 1967. This year he returned to Cairns to complete a commissioned portrait for the Gallery’s Permanent Collection, Merv Ah Kee (my father).
Ah Kee is a member of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples and is a passionate advocate for First Nations’ peoples and issues relating to race, colour and politics.
Ah Kee spent his childhood in Innisfail and teenage years in Cairns, before moving to Brisbane to complete his Bachelor of Visual Arts and then Doctorate in Visual Arts at the Queensland College of Art.
His father Merv, who tragically died in a car accident in 2014, and his mother Margaret, were both passionate advocates for Indigenous rights and education. In 2004 Ah Kee became a founding member of proppaNOW, a collective of Aboriginal artists in Brisbane to give urban-based Aboriginal artists a voice.
The commissioned portrait depicts his father gazing out of the drawing, directly at the viewer. Working from photographs of his father, it was a sometimes painful “labour of love” which Ah Kee shared with his mother who often sat with him in the studio, observing her son at work.
The commissioned work is now on display for the first time, together with two portraits of the artist’s son.
While in Cairns, Ah Kee worked from a studio space provided by the TAFE Queensland North and gave a free public talk about his work in August that was recorded by James Cook University and is now available on the Gallery’s website.
The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji and Yirrganydji as the Traditional Owners of the area today known as Cairns. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.